Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

October 17, 2007


The Jewish Talmud suggests that there is sex in heaven. So, too, does Islam. Of the Abrahamic faiths, only Christianity makes no space in heaven for conubial delight. Jesus remarks to the Sadducees that there will be no marriage or giving in marriage in heaven. But, in earthly life sex is a matter of great interest in all three traditions. Chief among the many tensions within the Catholic Church are issues dealing with sex: marriage and divorce, sacraments for the divorced and remarried, homosexuality, contraception, priestly celibacy, child abuse, and women priests.

How is it that, in the Christian tradition, sexual activities are viewed in a joyless and rather apprehensive manner? Raymond J. Lawrence, Jr, in his "Sexual Revolution: The Scandal of Christendom" (2007) makes the case that Christian negative attitudes towards sex have had an unhealthy impact on the personal sex life of many and on the moral theology that has developed about sex. His thesis is that this need not be; that ancient antipathies towards women and viewing them as somehow impure crept unwarrently into the Christian mentality. Lawrence describes how the first Christians inherited some of the restrictive attitudes of the Romans, influenced, as they were, by Platonic and Stoic philosophy. He goes on to outline the harsh negative attitudes towards women and sexual pleasure in the writings of Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine. He then contrasts these with the teachings and attitudes of Jesus. He describes the continuing growth of negative attitudes as the Church grew and experienced the teachings of Bernard and other medieval figures. He cites popes from the eleventh century on who used their power to extend their authority and control over the clergy. Mandated celibacy was an instrument of control. Forbidding priestly marriage was hoped to remedy the practice of pastors handing on church property to their sons. The Reformation tried to throw off some of the heavy restraints that had developed. Luther and many monks and clergy quickly abandoned celibacy and married. However, the negative cloud over sex continued in the Protestant traditon.

Lawrence's book goes on to describe sexual problems that have arisen in the various Christian churches, eminently the scandal of priestly abuse of the young and its secret coverups by many Catholic bishops. A chapter on masturbation traces its journey from sinfulness to ethical acceptance. Adolescent boys have been terrorized by the normal working of bodily hormones being mistakenly presented by their confessors as gravely sinful. Having experienced this myself, I went frequently to confession only to receive the ridiculous advice to take cold showers and read spiritual books to overcome the so-called problem. Looking back, I can see that there was surely no sin and that to pray for victory over this was to pray that my physical, emotional, and spiritual growth would stop! Following this absurd advice served only to inspire fear and impair spiritual growth when the body continued to act in a normal fashion! Boys were made to feel that they were afflicted with an unusual abnormality. Father Sean Fagan, a popular Marist priest in Ireland termed this kind of advice "spiritual abuse" and he wondered in one of his writings, "What in God's name, have we done with people's consciences?" In much the same vein, a popular evening prayer implored that the night would pass "without stain"!

Lawrence concludes that undoubtedly the Catholic Church's reason not to ordain women lies in the deepseated belief in the impurity of women and sexual relations. This shows itself in a thousand and one ways, as for example, in the Vatican's insistance that the US Conference of Bishops not appoint Sister Sharon Euart as the Secretary of the Conference! Only a priest would do!

It is encouraging to know that Our Blessed Lady and canonized women are, indeed, in heaven. Whether or not there is sex in heaven remains to be seen!